The facts in the HUD report about the DC Housing Authority are shocking but, we are not surprised. We are residents who live in public housing and neighbors who organize alongside residents. For us, the worst vacancy rate in the country means living next to vacant units where people from outside our communities break in, make noise, threaten our safety. We call security that usually doesn’t come. We demand real fixes to what is causing mold in our homes, but we are forced to just use bleach to blot it out until it grows again. We worry about how lead or rodents are harming our health. We put in work orders, over and over again.
The challenges we face did not happen overnight; they developed and compounded over many years and many administrations. In the face of this dysfunction, all of us in the District have a choice to make – all of us, every elected and appointed official, every resident and voter. We can choose apathy and to lower our expectations. We can choose to pass the buck and abdicate our responsibility. We can propose symbolic solutions that just rearrange the chairs on a ship that feels like it’s sinking.
Or we can choose to use the power that we each have to take BOLD action around a HOPEFUL vision.
We in the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN) have a vision grounded in listening to residents’ concerns, hopes and ideas. Residents from several DCHA properties and volunteers from neighboring congregations are door-knocking, phone banking, and zooming. We are meeting with experts, HUD representatives, and leaders from other cities. We developed a list of best practices and proposals. We are committed to continue organizing a powerful multi-ward coalition fighting for measurable improvements. We will not give up. We invite you to join us.
We are organizing around a vision to:
– DOUBLE the number of affordable units through a “Build First” approach. Build 8,000 new units on vacant DCHA parcels AND repair the 8,000 existing units, including the 1400 vacant units, all without displacing residents from their neighborhoods. We propose expanding the deeply affordable units, adding units at a mix of affordability AND affordable homeownership opportunities to create generational wealth. Our vision is housing that is both a safety net and an elevator to opportunity.
-ACT on the District’s climate goals- by addressing the main source of greenhouse gas emissions in the District AND making homes more healthy. Weatherize and seal buildings from pests and leaks that cause mold. Replace gas guzzling faulty heating systems and polluting appliances with green technology.
-FUND DCHA adequately. Current funding levels only allow for a whack-a-mole approach to repair that destroys the housing stock as it crumbles. Put public housing in the District’s capital budget alongside the budget for roads, bridges, libraries and schools. Dedicate large-scale revenue sources – such as the $90 million/ year in new tax revenue projected from the luxury developments at The Wharf.
The HUD report has specific recommendations of how the DCHA Director and board can improve immediately. We also know that even all of this won’t be enough. We call on every sector of government to act boldly.
DC Councilmembers can hold hearings, do monthly constituent service follow-up to demand emergency repairs, bring press attention and lift up the voices of residents. Councilmembers have budget power to ensure DCHA has the resources it needs and to put strings and clawbacks on the local funds to create more accountability.
The Attorney General can aggressively enforce every law that holds DCHA accountable and can use his authority and power to back up tenants who raise concerns.
The Mayor appoints the majority of the DCHA Board. The Board reflects the Mayor’s priorities. The success or failure of public housing will become a central part of the legacy of her administration.
Let’s all do our part to build a future of safe, healthy, green, and dignified housing with the thousands of District residents who live in public housing and for the tens of thousands of future residents of the housing that we can build together.
Joyce Kinard, President of Judiciary House and WIN Public Housing Workgroup
Kenneth Murphy, President of Potomac Gardens Senior Building
Rev. Anthony L. Minter, First Rock Baptist Church, WIN Co-Chair